basic math: on creativity and opening the kingdom



basic math: on creativity and opening the kingdom

{in this snippet of his forthcoming book “making manifest”–available april 2013–teacher, author, and poet dave harrity asks some questions that invite believers to think about what they’re adding to the world, and the creative implications of faith. if you’re in or near louisville on thursday november 29, you can catch him speaking on a panel about thomas merton and millennial faith practice at st. matthew’s episcopal church (330 North Hubbards Lane) at 7pm…}

 

And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord 

    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 

 for he has been mindful

    of the humble state of his servant. 

From now on all generations will call me blessed, 

     for the Mighty One has done great things for me—

    holy is his name. 

His mercy extends to those who fear him,

    from generation to generation. 

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; 

    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 

He has brought down rulers from their thrones

    but has lifted up the humble. 

He has filled the hungry with good things 

    but has sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel,

    remembering to be merciful 

to Abraham and his descendants forever,

    just as he promised our ancestors.”

—Luke 146–55

 

What will you add to the world today?—it’s easier to subtract, break down, negate, detract. But adding, that’s our calling—to make the world more alive. Every day, you could make something beautiful if you just paid attention a little more, put forth a tiny bit of effort.

The implications of your faith suggest it should be a practice in your life—making for the sake of making. A practice where there’s nothing to win, gain, or reap—just the satisfaction of creating. Creating is, after all, your Creator’s obsession.

Creating is the ultimacy of any person or group—adding some good to the world. And just as it was the ultimacy of God to begin creating—and eventually reimagining that being, character, and imperative by way of Christ—it’s our honor to create as well.

Think of the old commands, one of which is directly about our words: Don’t take God’s name in vain. It’s not simply a prohibition, but a comment on intent, and the power of that intent. Because God is with us, it’s sinful to misuse our language. Our words—breathed from us—become part of the living economy of the Kingdom of God.

We often choose to destroy that Kingdom—the violences of our hearts and minds come forward in some pretty revealing ways. Those violences were made very real at the Cross; we can see clearly that we’re often the ones acting in opposition to creation. We help make the climate of chaos, confusion, and crumbling. Our Annihilation is always the opposite of God’s Incarnation.

Then shouldn’t we—as Christians—be asking some tough questions? Maybe answer these questions on a piece of paper after thinking about them a while. Feel free to make comments below, by Twitter, or the Antler Faacebook page

What practices in my life lead to annihilation, for me or others?

 

Am I part of a community, cycle, system, workforce, government, or principality that      facilitates, participates in, funds, or fosters annihilation, disdain, fear, disparity, or      exploitation?

 

Or, better yet, do I condone by my practices, habits, inaction, or muteness those actions      which move against the Incarnation?

 

Or, take it this way:

 

Is there a group of people—social or economic—that isn’t part of my Christian community      because they make me feel uncomfortable? How might they want to be treated or welcomed?      What might they need?

 

Am I part of a group that people have grown to scorn, ignore, or disenfranchise? Why might      people feel this way?

 

What am I—and the people with whom I associate—putting into the world and what effect is      it having on the humanity and dignity of others, on the least of these?

 

Last, most importantly:

 

Am I an “enemy” to anyone? Is anyone an “enemy” to me? As a believer, what am I going to      do about it?

 

If I or my faith community have made “enemies” and feel justified in it because of some moral      high-ground, popular hierarchy, socially regarded scriptural mandate, or personal opinion,      what’s the cost to my “enemies” for holding firm that position? What’s the cost to me or my      community of believers? Or better yet, my enemies?

 

Which of these positions is most valuable in the economy of God’s Kingdom: Rightness or      kindness? Correctness or love? Serenity or peace? Morality or charity? Perfection or      completeness?

 

I ask—not out of arrogant knowing, but modest seeking—because I wonder myself. I ask because I wonder if I am living as Jesus would live. Is there a way to love and accept all people in peace, in a way that hopes and strives for change but doesn’t risk anyone’s humanity—neighbor or enemy—being cast aside? That underscores the God-made image in which we all were made? That exposes injustice, cruelty, disparity, or spiritual arrogance for what it is while offering a way toward reconciliation for all people–oppressors and oppressed?

It seems, in this way, that Christianity isn’t so much about standing up for what’s right as it is about standing beside liberation, beside grace—which in itself is solely right. The Christian can’t hold a posture of contrasts as much as a posture of charities. Can we come together in the gift that is the Incarnation to foster a new way to live?

Poetry, in purity, is an act toward incarnating, toward making manifest God in the world. When you’re creating, you’re moving toward that purity. Making violence of any kind is harder when your daily practices are rooted in making peace.

The Prophets act this way by giving us profound examples of language’s evocative calamity—so powerful is their lament that they must make it poetry. Only poetry can do justice to what must be said—it carries the emotional freight, exposes evil for what it is, champions justice and balance, beauty and goodness, and bears witness to all in between.

Our words—our poetry—allow us to see clearly.

Mary sings her poetry. So powerful is her experience that it must be put down in verse to come close to honoring her complex experience. Eventually Mary’s Song is one of acceptance in the face of what surely must have been awful confusion, dramatic isolation, and fervent fear. Her prayer isn’t simplistic praise and gratitude as much as it is a prophetic and uncompromising vision. God is reimagining human community through her womb, through a radical and unstoppable grace. Imagine trying to make sense of that? Then or now.

Our words—our poetry—allow us to cry out vividly.

You’ve felt like these people, I’d imagine. Afraid, anxious, angry, justified, frustrated, isolated, left behind. Sound familiar? If you’ve felt that way, what are the chances that you or your community have made others feel that way?

If you’re going to bring God into the world, you’d better be ready to become a poet—poised to see, trained to hear, and bravely empathic enough to discern truth from injustice and work toward making it right.

It’s not a special skill, but a human obligation. So-called poets aren’t born distinct, but awakened to the gifts that have been in them all along. The Christian should be poised to see, but the Christian who chooses to create should be poised to see and tell the truth—now there’s an act of co-creation.

Can you give your life away to others? Can you act to help, reaching out with your voice and hands to bring comfort, even when it isn’t comfortable? Can you give something away you can’t get or take back?

Feel free to tell us your thoughts on this via the space below, Twitter, or Facebook

+++++
Dave Harrity is author of “Making Manifest: On Faith, Writing, and the Kingdom At-Hand” available from Seedbed later this year. The 28-day devotional-style book features meditations and writing exercises designed for individual and communal spiritual formation. His poems and other writings have appeared in journals and periodicals stateside and abroad. As Director of Antler, he travels far and wide conducting workshops on faith, imagination, worship, and creative writing. He’d love to come visit your church, seminary, college, or other religious community.

Follow Dave on Twitter: @daveharrity





17 Responses to “basic math: on creativity and opening the kingdom”

  1. Steven Durgin says:

    “What am I—and the people with whom I associate—putting into the world and what effect is it having on the humanity and dignity of others, on the least of these?”

    I love this question, David. I have found some simple ways to contribute to the world. Though it may surprise some, one of these ways is silence. You wrote about poetry and the use of words as part of the “living economy of God.”While I find this beautiful and compelling, as a reminder that “life and death are in the power of the tongue (Pv. 18:21)” I also think it wise to suggest silence as a means of putting goodness in the world.

    Silence can powerfully communicate that we are not from this world, and that we will not make it our permanent home. As Henri Nouwen said, “Silence makes us pilgrims.” While Christians ought to use their words to bring life and help people to imagine the beauty of cosmic redemption, they must hold this inclination in tension with the message that only silence can tell.

    We want to make this a better place, but I would submit that it is more important to show the world that we are only passing through. We ought to speak, preach, sing, write, and pray, but our silence protects us from becoming entangled in the cares and affairs of the world.

    Just some thoughts to juggle. I hope that silence will teach us how to speak.

    • dave says:

      thanks for your comments, steven. you’re spot on about silence here… and i think that yours–and nouwen’s–are exact in their scope and idea. i agree wholly, and spend much of my time trying to live in silent contemplation, but it can be tough.

      the post from this week has a larger context that’s rooted in our words and how we make them into ‘flesh’–acts of contemplative journaling, poetry, creating, etc–being ways toward that silence, avenues into that silent land where we can add by presence, not just by creation.

      i hope that this post might ask questions that provoke silence–the intentional kind–but also hope it might help people understand, like what you said, what exactly it is we’re putting into the kingdom, and how we’re putting it in! i wonder, do you feel like there might be a way to add your voice to the world in a way that’s close to silence, that embodies what silence might help create–where you aren’t talking to others, but dialoging with your own silence, as thomas merton often did?

      my god, i hope that silence can aid us in making things right in this world! peace to you, fellow pilgrim… :-)

  2. Jaime Kowieski says:

    I really enjoyed the way you explained why it is so important (and arguably necessary) for Christians to be poets in this world. I specifically enjoyed the way you fleshed out the implications of this through the following quote: “If you’re going to bring God into the world, you’d better be ready to become a poet—poised to see, trained to hear, and bravely empathic enough to discern truth from injustice and work toward making it right.” To be honest, I have always been so confused when people have related Christians and poets so closely. Yet after reading this specific quote, I finally understand! As Christians we are called to have our eyes wide open and our ears totally attentive at all times to things of God so that we can discern from the things of this world. By doing so, we are then able to re-create beauty around us wherever we go. Thank you for making this point clear to me.

    • dave says:

      thanks jamie! encouraging note for sure! i’m glad it was helpful. i hope that any work that i add to this noisy world might help bring a little light! your comment means much. i hope that you’ll begin pursuing your own voice–allowing yourself the time to develop your poetry (your vocation, your voice) in the coming months. and i hope antler might offer some small tools that help you discern that direction! feel free to contact my via the website with questions, for exercises, or if there’s anything i can help with!

  3. Joshua LeClere says:

    Very interesting topic! I particularly found the concept of poetry as incarnating God in the world. In my own life, I often wonder how I could become more gracious to those around me. Not that I view myself as an enemy to people but more times than I would like, I find myself thinking ill of other people and imposing my own standards upon them. In this sense, I think I take the correctness route over the kindness route a little too strongly. While I’ll tell myself that this is a way of standing strong in my faith, I think that it just a way of avoiding having to be “bravely empathic enough to discern truth from injustice and work toward making it right” as you described the poet. The call to ‘see’ the truth and then the call to “tell” the truth is very convicting. Thank you very much for the good insights about how poetry can tap into the creative side that is so necessary to the Christian life.

    • dave says:

      joshua–your kind words mean much. i appreciate your taking the time to comment.

      i like what you said here about your own standards and standing strong with your faith. we so often equate standing up for what’s right as doing good, and i don’t think the two are the same–at least not always.

      i hope that you’ll begin exploring your own creative potential (if you haven’t already!) and that you might make creativity part of your own devotional practice in some small day, but make it so daily.

      i’m here as a resource if you’d like to bounce ideas!

      thanks for your comments!

  4. Justin Peeples says:

    I agree 100% that we need to improvise in the beautiful world that God has created for us. I believe there are two types of people: One in which the person goes through life and just enjoys the motions and another who may live a good life but they pay attention to the small details in life. The second person sees the “fine print” in the world and is able to acknowledge it. They are also able to create and add based off those small, but influential details. I feel that a person who just lives his lives and goes through the motions can’t add to the world. You must notice and be thankful for the things that cant easily be seen to add to this world.

    What practices in my life lead to annihilation, for me or others?
    I feel that a huge thing in my life and others that leads to annihilation is the music that we listen to. In a world where music can be downloaded at the click of a button it’s apart of everyone’s life. Sometimes when I am listening to rap music it gets me in a mood to destroy and not add. Another thing that leads to annihilation would be the shows on TV. All the shows on TV now are all about killing, stealing, or a fast pace lifestyle. Watching things like this on TV don’t make u want to add or create things to add to our world.

    Is there a group of people—social or economic—that isn’t part of my Christian community because they make me feel uncomfortable? How might they want to be treated or welcomed? What might they need?
    I feel like there are a lot of people that aren’t apart of my Christian community because of their actions, thoughts, and how they live their lives. If you don’t have the same views as someone it is very easy to get uncomfortable very fast. They might want to get treated like I treat someone in my community but that might not be possible based of their beliefs or actions. These people may need to meet Jesus. Maybe these people need to get put in front of the word so that they know Jesus is here.

    Am I part of a group that people have grown to scorn, ignore, or disenfranchise? Why might people feel this way?
    I feel that I am apart of a group that people have grown to ignore. Being a Christian I have learned first hand how people can judge you, and/or ignore your thoughts or you as a person. By going to a public university my freshman year I saw first hand how being from a different religion or background can cause people to single you out and act as if you don’t exist.

    Sorry I couldn’t respond to all your questions. These questions engaged me and really made me think.

    • dave says:

      justin, thanks so much for taking the time to answer some of these question–i really appreciate your time… i have some thoughts about what you’ve said here and wonder if you can probe a bit deeper into some of your answers if you have the time.

      1- as for media keeping you from adding to the world, i wonder if there might be a way for you to flip that paradigm on its side. is there a way for you to engage that media with compassion and vision enough to allow it to alter the way you think so that it might help you imagine how you might be able to help ‘the least of these’? can you use media to enlarge your sense of what the world so be, or is trying to become? how can it help you see the world for what it is, rather than some kind of projection of something fleeting? think of–if you know it–the story of buddha going into the world–he sees suffering, death, and inhumanity and it forces him to reexamine his existence and how he might live in the world; he doesn’t develop cynicism for the tragedies of living. thoughts?

      2- on christian community: is someone’s behavior contingent on whether or not we offer them the faith, hope, and love of jesus? how can you offer people ‘the word’ (by which i assume you mean both christ and scripture) without adding to their lives. in the way you’ve written, you make it sound like they need to come to us, which is the opposite of jesus’s teaching and radical approach to living in community. why isn’t it possible for you to treat people with love if they’re outside of your community? is there a way to offer them peace that’s beyond both your and their understanding?

      3- i understand that you feel like you might be disenfranchised because of your beliefs. i’ve felt that way sometimes, too. but here’s an idea that often pops into my head when i feel that way: ‘what is my place–in the world–as a christian? what is it my job to reveal?’ when i think of that, i believe that my job is to expose injustice. one way to do that is to allow for that disenfranchisement or mistreatment to be transformational to the way you interact with your ‘enemies’ (those people who treat you poorly). why did jesus tell us to turn the other cheek? so that we might be abused? not necessarily. but that that abuse might have the ability to help people reimagine the way we treat one another, that it might expose the injustices that exist in the world, not be/feel justified by them.

      this is a tough pill to swallow, to be sure. but i wonder if you can begin thinking about the way christians treat others. for example, the national day of prayer for oppressed christians happened a couple weeks ago (maybe last week?) where believers all around the world prayed for oppressed believers. i wonder, why didn’t we simply pray for liberation from oppression for ALL people. we do no good unless we’re reaching outward, beyond all our boundaries.

      i know this response is lengthy response, but i’d love to hear what you think!

      thanks so much for taking time to think and respond!

  5. Allison Boggs says:

    “Poetry, in purity, is an act toward incarnating, toward making manifest God in the world.” I have never thought about poetry in this way. Often times I just see poetry as thoughtful words, but not necessarily thoughtful words used to manifest God in the world. If all Christians took these words to heart, I can only imagine what a difference we could make.

    Another thing that stuck out to me earlier in your post was your opening line. What can we as Christians do to add to this world. It is very simple to destroy, take away, subtract, etc, but to add? That’s what we have a problem with. Like you said, “We often choose to destroy that Kingdom—the violences of our hearts and minds come forward in some pretty revealing ways.” One example that stuck out to me was taking the Lord’s name in vain. People who call themselves Christians still use the phrase “Oh my God.” This is one commandment God gives us, “Do not take the Lord’s name in vain.” If we are trying to add to this world in a positive, Christian way, this is not the way to be doing it. It is important for us to be lights in this dark world. One simple way to do this is to cut out using this phrase.

    Your whole post was really eye-opening for me. It was good to hear the need for us to add to the world, not subtract. I’ve never heard it put like that before; I like it! It was also really awesome to hear that poetry is a good opportunity for Christians to use their words to speak volumes. Thank you for helping me see this.

    • dave says:

      allison, thanks for this thoughtful comment! i’m glad you’ve enjoyed the post!

      i wonder about your question of ‘cutting out’ this phrase from our vocabulary. i agree it should be done, but what can you add? when you or others say ‘oh my god’ what are you/they really saying?

      maybe we need to add a renewed sense of awe or witness to the world that can allow that phrase to actually mean something. after all, is it saying the lord’s name in vain if you actually mean it?

  6. Chavez Lollie says:

    “If you’re going to bring God into the world, you’d better be ready to become a poet—poised to see, trained to hear, and bravely empathic enough to discern truth from injustice and work toward making it right.”

    When i first read this part i was confused because i didn’t understand how being a christian relates to being a poet, but after reading this and having a discussion with my father i realize that to truly be a Christian we must be able to see the world in its smallest details.

    We can’t save people if we refuse to dig deep into the people we want to save.

    • dave says:

      chavez–thanks for your insights! glad you could get in on the conversation.

      glad that the conversation with your father helped!

      i’m wondering though… by your offerings here, it seems that you make it clear that being a christian means that you must save people. is that what it means to be a christian?

  7. Erin Mulligan says:

    Am I an “enemy” to anyone? Is anyone an “enemy” to me? As a believer, what am I going to do about it?

    I think that there have been times in which I have not been pleased with the way someone has treated me but that doesn’t justify treating that person poorly. The Bible is clear that believers ought to refrain from gossip, for instance, and I believe that it is the enemy that pulls at our heart strings and makes individuals feel like it is okay to think poorly of someone or to talk poorly of someone. But it’s not okay to talk poorly of someone else. In the past I have felt the Holy Spirit move me to ask for forgiveness for something that I said that was hurtful to someone else. Those situations help us grow closer to God and, furthermore, help us learn how to love others.

    If I or my faith community have made “enemies” and feel justified in it because of some moral high-ground, popular hierarchy, socially regarded scriptural mandate, or personal opinion, what’s the cost to my “enemies” for holding firm that position? What’s the cost to me or my community of believers? Or better yet, my enemies?

    I believe that if a person were to think they “are right” in how they speak negatively of others, even though the Bible says not to, then that can be a reflection on how they may struggle with obedience or submission to authority. See, if nonbelievers observe believers acting a certain way even though they preach something else then they may be skeptical to want to follow Christ.

    Which of these positions is most valuable in the economy of God’s Kingdom: Rightness or kindness? Correctness or love? Serenity or peace? Morality or charity? Perfection or completeness?

    I could write a paper on this…haha. Well, I think that it is all about how one comes across in rightness/kindness/correctness/love etc. If I were to show kindess to others about what the right path is then that is valuable. Being proud in rightness is not kind. Furthermore, showing love in correcting individuals is not wrong if it is genuine. I have an accountability partner who demonstrates love when she corrects me or guides me in the right path.

    I ask—not out of arrogant knowing, but modest seeking—because I wonder myself. I ask because I wonder if I am living as Jesus would live. Is there a way to love and accept all people in peace, in a way that hopes and strives for change but doesn’t risk anyone’s humanity—neighbor or enemy—being cast aside? That underscores the God-made image in which we all were made? That exposes injustice, cruelty, disparity, or spiritual arrogance for what it is while offering a way toward reconciliation for all people–oppressors and oppressed?

    The question, “what are believers adding to this world” demonstrates how we ought to be more Christ-like. Mary’s soul glorified the Lord…that makes me feel as though I too want my soul to glorify the Lord. The thought of glorifying God through my words and actions brings me joy. I know I may fail but I am trying to be more Christ like and that is what is important.

    Sorry for not answering all your questions. Thank you for asking such profound questions that allowed me to really think.

  8. Jaclyn Calabrese says:

    Wow! This is a very thought provoking post! I understand that, as Christians, it is our call to bear fruit and to become Christ-like. However, I realize that bearing fruit is only part of my call as a Christ-follower. Not only am I called to not conform to this world and die to my flesh, but I am also called to replace that with something; I need to be adding as well. When I reflect on my faith, I can clearly see how I have grown and the “good” and “Christian” things I have done in my life but where and what have I added? Yes, I have poured into people and such but what have I actually ADDED? This is a question that I will thoroughly need to reflect on for a while to see what I find.

    I really enjoyed the questions you asked so I am going to answer a couple of them. Just a forewarning, you will see my thought process unfold throughout my answers as I work through the questions.

    Is there a group of people—social or economic—that isn’t part of my Christian community because they make me feel uncomfortable? How might they want to be treated or welcomed? What might they need?
    Absolutely! I think this is a very clear answer but the problem is fixing it. I know for me, I can be intimidated by people who live their lives vastly different than I do. Oddly enough, the ones who I feel most intimidated to talk to about my beliefs are those whom I’m closest with. I become almost crippled with fear when I feel a prompting to share with them and feel greatly disappointed when they don’t have an on-spot revelation after hearing my words. I know that isn’t how it works, I’ll share one thing and they immediately see the light but that is just part of my flesh and, I would say, a bit of pride….almost as if a revelation should be my reward for obeying the Spirit and speaking to them. This is completely absurd though that I would feel this way towards those loved ones. I have almost no problem talking to a stranger or to someone distant about God’s gift. If I can do that, all the more I should be reaching out to the ones I care most about and shouldn’t let any fear get in the way as we have not been given a spirit of timidity but of power and love and self discipline. If I truly care about them, and I do, I owe it to them to share this wonderful gift and news with them as someone had shared it with me. What they NEED is Jesus and I can share Him with them. For me, that’s easier said than done at times though.

    What am I—and the people with whom I associate—putting into the world and what effect is it having on the humanity and dignity of others, on the least of these?
    I think this is a bit of a scary question depending on what aspect one focuses on. When I read this question, I didn’t think of the good we are adding as a community but immediately thought of the negative. I think that as Christians, we have become widely known for being judgmental. What an awful label to have surrounding us! Though not every Christian is, that seems to be something we have added to the world, more judgment. Ironic since we are the ones who are supposed to be loving. I think judgment diminishes one’s dignity. I have seen firsthand many instances where a Christian will be talking poorly about someone for the way they live their lives, myself included as I have thought ill about others as well, forgetting that all of us were once in darkness just like them. Who would want to join us in walking “as children of the light” if all they have experienced is the negative and think that’s what being a Christian means? I know I wouldn’t. The implications of our negative impacts can be grave as we back-track on the foundations Christ has laid for us. It is important that we are walking along side those in need, those in the dark, and the least of these.

    These questions have obviously provoked some thought in me but I’m not sure that I’ve really arrived anywhere. I identified problems and some solutions but I’m still pondering the question, “What can I add?” Perhaps your response will provide questions for further prodding.

    I’m not going to expand upon this because I think it speaks for itself but I just wanted to add that I loved when you said, “It’s not a special skill, but a human obligation.” I agree 100%. Now I just need to figure out how to fulfill that duty.

  9. Paul Grotelueschen says:

    “Our words—our poetry—allow us to see clearly”

    I just wrote a paper that argued that in the best poetry contemplation is often the reason for the poem and I think that you’re quote above confirms that idea! If the purpose of poetry is the author wrestling with an issue and working it out through rhyme and meter then he/she is most certainly adding something to the world simply through their thoughts. I know that when I read you poem “Buying a Gun” you didn’t necessarily argue for or against gun rights but you presented an honest assessment of a man buying a gun for the first time. Successful poetry is about trying to see clearly, to understand what’s going on in the world; it’s about starting a dialogue with the reader and oneself–that’s adding something to this world. Great Article!

  10. Stew says:

    What practices in my life lead to annihilation, for me or others?

    I believe that everything around us today is a tool to corrupt us and lead us down the wrong path. Its hard to stay on your walk with Christ without straying from the path due to these obstacles. Obstacles such as whats on t.v. and other media in our faces everyday can be corrupting if we let it. Letting ourselves get lost in this endless cycle can lead to us severing our bond with Christ. Without Christ in our lives we are forever lost.
    I see what the different adversity comes with being someone who wants to change and become closer to God because I struggle with it everyday. I saw myself slowly walking down a path that God did not set for me. Before I stepped further I began to reflect on what I was becoming. The reflection led me to strive to be a better person with Christ, because alone without him I would fail. I am a just a sinner trying to change before its too late and will continue to strive to become what God intended for me.

    • dave says:

      stew,

      thanks for weighing in here.

      you’ve mentioned that there are things that take away from your walk with christ, but what are some things that add to it? is there anything that you could add that might help you grow as a believer?

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